UC and service worker union continue to differ on wages, staffing issues

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A year of bargaining between the University of California and the union representing its service and patient-care workers has amounted to one fact-finding, two strikes with a potential third looming on the horizon and, most recently, a state audit released Thursday — and still no contracts.

Although the university and the UC chapter of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — known as AFSCME Local 3299 — have brought the majority of their issues to rest, they are still in the midst of contract negotiations, wrangling over wages and a range of staffing disagreements. Though the service workers and patient-care workers, who number more than 21,000, are part of the same union, the two groups are negotiating separately with the university.

UC spokesperson Dianne Klein said the university has been asked for a 6 percent wage increase from the service workers in the union — who declined to confirm the exact figure — while the university is willing to offer a 3 percent increase this year followed by a 3.5 percent increase in each of the next three years.

The union, however, cites a different figure, saying the university has only offered an average of 1.88 percent across-the-board increases over the contract’s four-year term, which AFSCME believes is unfair because other bargaining groups have gotten higher wage increases. For instance, the California Nurses Association reached a tentative four-year contract agreement with the university in the fall, including 4 percent annual across-the-board salary increases over the contract’s term.

There are two types of wage increases on the table, step increases and across-the-board increases. Step increases happen when employees move up the ladder of a defined wage range. Across-the-board increases happen when the entire range of wages is moved up by some set percentage.

Klein said that in the end, the wages resulting from step increases are close to those from across-the-board increases, while AFSCME Local 3299 communications director Todd Stenhouse argues step increases result in significantly less in overall wages for workers because they don’t necessarily apply to all employees every year.

During the fact-finding phase of bargaining, a neutral chairperson, selected by the union and the university, recommended annual 3 percent across-the-board wage increases for the service workers with 2 percent step increases over the contract’s term — a compromise that lies between the university’s offer and what it says the union is demanding.

Still, both parties have been unable to reach a consensus, alleging a lack of transparency on both sides — what Klein called the union’s “public and cynical campaign of misinformation and accusations” and Stenhouse referred to as the university’s “deliberate deception.”

The union and the university also disagree on pay for missed breaks, the procedure for converting temporary workers into career employees and the ability to contract out jobs, among other issues.

Stenhouse says these issues come down to safety. When staff members for a lab cleanup or surgery prep are temporary or have missed their breaks, it affects patients, Stenhouse said.

A recently released report by the state auditor, however, found that the UCLA and UC San Francisco medical centers have not suffered drops in patient-care quality or satisfaction over the last couple of years.

The union, however, believes the report presents an incomplete picture of the UC medical centers, excluding a discussion of worker injuries and not mentioning the UC system’s other three medical centers.

If unable to reach a compromise with the university in the next couple of weeks, the union plans to take a strike vote Feb. 11 to 13, something the university hopes to avoid but the union sees as a necessary measure.

Daniel Tutt covers higher education. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @danielgtutt.